Emmaus Days drew 136 this summer to consider God’s plan for their lives

High school freshmen and sophomores from around the diocese pray the rosary during Session III of Emmaus Days at Peoria Notre Dame High School. This was the first year Notre Dame hosted two sessions of the vocation awareness summer retreats. (Provided photo)

More than 130 boys and young men were challenged to seek Christ and His plan for their lives during four Emmaus Days vocation awareness retreats this summer sponsored by the diocesan Office of Priestly Vocations.

While the first two sessions for college-aged men and juniors and seniors in high school took place at Nazareth House near Henry, this marked the first summer that the Emmaus Days sessions for the two younger groups — high school freshmen and sophomores and students entering seventh and eighth grade — were hosted by Peoria Notre Dame High School.

In past years those retreats took place at St. Bede Academy in Peru. Notre Dame was tried this year because of its more central location in the diocese.

The new location worked out well, according to organizers. The boys slept in the library, with paper covering its large picture windows to block out the morning sun.


“The great joy comes from teaching the youth about what it means to fall in love with Jesus Christ,” said Austin Bosse, a seminarian for the Diocese of Peoria who served as assistant prefect for this summer’s Emmaus Days. “When you get to see these guys encounter God’s mercy through confession and eucharistic adoration, through Mass . . . . it is life-giving to a seminarian.”

“You can watch as they grow in their faith,” agreed Zac Leskanich, a seminarian from St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Streator who served as prefect. All participants in the two younger sessions received medals of Our Lady of Fatima from Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, who visited all four sessions, celebrated Mass, and answered questions.

Speaking at the final session on July 14, the bishop encouraged those who feel God might be calling them to the priesthood to “test their vocation” in the seminary.

“Test it,” repeated the bishop. “Is this the life I would be interested in? See if it’s the right thing for you, and be ready to take a chance.”

Leskanich said the experience of guiding Emmaus Days for the first time improved his organization skills as well as his trust in the Holy Spirit. While the planning team was well prepared, unexpected things can and do happen over the three days of each retreat.

“God stretches you in the ways you need to be stretched,” agreed Bosse. “”All of this is is God’s hands. You can’t let the little things stress you out.”


During the question and answer sessions with Bishop Jenky, no topic was off limits. Perhaps the most memorable question from this summer’s session came July 14 during the final Emmaus Days session, with 52 seventh- and eighth-graders in attendance.

“I hope many of you will test your vocations in the seminary,” Bishop Jenky told seventh- and eighth-graders in Session IV at Peoria Notre Dame. “Priesthood is a wonderful life.” (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

“Bishop, which parishes are the hardest to work with?” asked a boy.

As nervous laughter filled the auditorium at Peoria Notre Dame High School, the bishop’s first response was that if he answered that question, “I’d have to move out of the diocese!”

He then went on to say that he has appreciated getting to know all the parishes in the diocese during his 15 years as bishop. “They’re all different in some way,” he noted.

But while Bishop Jenky didn’t reveal the most difficult parish to work with, he did acknowledge he has a special place in his heart for the country parishes in our diocese. Often after special Masses in the rural locations he is treated to country-style home cooking.

“It’s so good,” he said.

Among other questions posed to Bishop Jenky during the final Emmaus Days session were:

  • Have you ever thought about becoming a cardinal? “Being a bishop brings more than enough challenges,” said Bishop Jenky. “God really took care of me when he gave me Peoria. I fell in love with it early.”
  • What sports did you play? “I wish I could say I was a great athlete,” he said, but such was not the case. The bishop said he could ice skate, but when he got into pick-up games in his youth “my plan was if the puck came near me I’d skate away. I never liked my blood on the ice.” He also detested rope climbing in high school, saying the fact he was able to actually climb it during P.E. class is “one of my proofs for the existence of God.”
  • How many languages do you know? “Barely one,” said Bishop Jenky. He explained he took four years of Latin, two years of German, and studied French at the University of Notre Dame, but hasn’t put them to use. His advice to the young men, “If you learn a language, keep it up.”


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